This proverbial phrase resonates with greater frequency as current debates over climate change (and the science behind observable and proven environmental crises) are getting greater attention. It is inconceivable that the inclusion of methods to engage ecological literacy in higher education might become illegal, but that has become the case in many states where 'anti-LEED' legislation has been passed. In Georgia, for example, the passage of House Bill 255 made it illegal for any publicly funded building to pursue LEED performance ratings. The purpose of this bill may be read directly in the sponsored language that can be found at www.legis.ga.gov under "HB255 State Purchasing." Although the bill, perhaps, did not intend to impact curriculum and teaching in our public universities, the collateral damage undeniably includes one of the most inventive and effective sustainable teaching programs in the nation, the LEED Lab. Authored by USGBC, the LEED Lab engages students with dynamic, real-world, learning opportunities based upon the LEED rating system. Students involved in the LEED Lab pursue the assessment of on-campus building(s) and culminate their studies with the submittal of actual certification documents, allowing the campus building to become certified and recognized for greater environmental performance. The result of the lab is a more informed and experienced graduate with experience in the built sciences and an improved campus environment with healthier buildings and sites for everyone. So what is an educator to do?
Bridging academic learning to meaningful ethical practice within the built environment is a hallmark of the hands-on teaching at the Kennesaw State University College of Architecture and Construction Management (CACM). However, as I worked with Brandi Williams (Construction Management) to develop the LEED Lab on our own campus, our efforts were directly hindered through the aforementioned "Anti-LEED" legislation of 2015. It's not uncommon to have difficulties in curriculum and pedagogy at a University, but to have a meaningful course development initiative rendered completely impossible through legislation constitutes an entirely different level of obstruction. We decided to press on with the initiative in a creative manner. My Sustainability Fellowship Research of 2016-2017 came at an opportune time, when I could direct my efforts towards finding a way to conduct the LEED Lab in a compliant and meaningful way. Having already discussed collaboration with Prof. Williams and external sustainable thought leaders in the Atlanta region, an idea was spawned that we were able to build upon during the past academic year.
Instead of improving our own campus at KSU, we began discussions with Susan Kidd, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability at Agnes Scott College (ASC), a privately funded college in Decatur, Georgia, to discuss the opportunities of an alternate location for LEED Lab. Although 30 miles (an hour commute in Atlanta) separated the two campuses, the common goals of sustainability and student-centered learning could not have placed our two groups in closer proximity. With the constant effort of professors and sustainability leaders at both campuses, several focus meetings, and head-strong determination, a working outline was drafted in 2017 to have students within the KSU CACM provide the STEM-based analysis and documentation for a physical structure on the ASC campus. Basically, keeping the educational component of LEED LAB within the control of KSU faculty and displacing the physical structure location for the application of learning on a private campus, Agnes Scott.
The LEED Lab is organized around the LEED EB+OM (Existing Building Operations and Maintenance) rating system. Students and faculty participating in the lab select a building on their campus and, working with the USGBC, they analyze the building and recommend modifications that will allow the building to be certified (proven attainment) within the LEED EB+OM points system. The certification of buildings and refinement of operations and maintenance lowers and reduces the overall environmental footprint of the University. Additionally, all participants, including facilities employees and staff, learn the nuances of the rating system while providing students with hands on learning opportunities that have a direct and meaningful positive impact on their campus environment. In essence the only variation to this model is the collaboration between two distinct academies of higher education, something that has never been attempted in the LEED Lab program.
For Agnes Scott College the LEED Lab partnership with KSU has multiple benefits. First, it provides them with the knowledge and experience of faculty in construction management and architecture. "As a four-year liberal arts college, we do not have these areas of expertise on our faculty, therefore, we have no courses on campus in these subjects. The students here who take the LEED Lab will have skills that in the past they would have had to seek out off campus. By enrolling in the KSU course, they were able to simply take the course remotely and add it to their usual course schedule," says Susan Kidd. Two Agnes Scott students, in the first offering of the course, are pursuing LEED after they graduate. They were able to take the course at KSU thanks to the ARCHE Cross Registration program in Georgia (http://www.atlantahighered.org/Collaboration/CrossRegistration/ParticipatingInstitutions/tabid/611/Default.aspx) another creative way to extend the learning opportunities across both campuses. One of the ASC students has been accepted to graduate school in architecture and the other will be a LEED Fellow on their campus after graduation.
The LEED Lab also provides Agnes Scott with the technical assistance they need to pursue LEED EBOM for the McCain Library. When ASC had previously looked into this process they knew that they did not have the staff time and expertise to get it done, nor did they have the budget to hire consultants to do it for them. "We also prefer to 'learn by doing' with all aspects of sustainability, so it has been better for us to undertake LEED EBOM with KSU as our teacher," says Kidd. Once the elements of the building that need upgrading to meet LEED standards have been identified, ASC hopes to use their Green Revolving fund (GRF) as the financing tool to get the work done. The GRF is a nationally recognized fund managed by Agnes Scott, using donor contributions combined with projected utility savings to implement energy and water reductions projects across campus. In just five years since startup, the college has raised and invested $1 million in energy and water upgrades with an anticipated 4 1/2 year payback period for all the projects combined.
"It was a simple process to add the LEED Lab content to the existing CM course Sustainable Operation and Maintenance, since the course was already based on the LEED v4 EBOM rating system. Expanding the enrollment to KSU Architecture and Agnes Scott students provided all of the students with the opportunity to see the facility management process from the perspective of different stakeholders. Each student presented a unique view of the project that incorporated their own knowledge base and understanding of building design, construction and/or facility management. The classroom mirrored the real-world exchange of ideas between design professionals, contractors and building owners. Having a real project to work on instead of theoretical scenarios provided the students with a valuable and enriching experience." says Brandi Williams, Professor of Construction Management at Kennesaw State University.
"As a student, the LEED Lab is such an enriching experience. After taking this course, I have a clearer understanding of the certification process for LEED EBOM, and I am also engaged in learning more about LEED and pursuing personal accreditation. Being able to combine the requirements LEED establishes for each credit with the physical and financial constraints of an existing building was very productive to apply what we learned in the classroom in a real-life setting. I hope more and more students have access to the LEED Lab, and that this opportunity can motivate them to explore sustainable practices." says Karlla Dreser who is a student in the program.
The entire process has been a learning experience for everyone involved and the patience and talents shown by all individuals has been amazing. We hope to continue the program of the LEED Lab for years to come and to perfect the process of integrating it into our curriculum. I'm optimistic that one day legislation will once again allow publicly funded buildings to pursue LEED ratings in Georgia, and when that time comes, our students and faculty will be highly prepared to provide the very best learning environment for our students and get to the serious task of renovating our own campus to demonstrate the potential of hands-on learning in our immediate environment. Until then, we will be 'making lemonade' with Agnes Scott.